Three weeks ago, President Obama abruptly announced all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year after the breakdown of negotiations over extending the Status of Forces Agreement.
The president has presented the withdrawal as the fulfillment of his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq; however, it is nothing of the sort.
After being swept into the White House in no small part to his posturing as the “antiwar” candidate, Obama only continued the policies of his predecessor on Iraq. The withdrawal will merely be honoring the SFA signed by President Bush in 2008.
From the beginning, it was understood this agreement would be renegotiated to allow for a U.S. military presence past the Dec. 31, 2011 deadline. Indeed, the Obama administration was frantically engaged in such negotiations before they fell apart.
At the same time, the withdrawal is not, as conservatives have presented it, merely political pandering to the antiwar sentiments of the American population. After all, the deal sought by the administration fell through on the Iraqi side of the table. No section of the Iraqi political establishment was willing to associate itself with extending the lease on the hated American occupation.
The recriminations are therefore real, and the failure to renegotiate a continued American presence is a huge setback for US imperialism. After nearly nine years of war, some 4,400 U.S. troops killed, tens of thousands more maimed and psychologically damaged and more than $1 trillion squandered, the U.S. is being denied an exclusive military presence in the country.
The toll for the Iraqi people is even more staggering. It is estimated more than a million Iraqis have been killed and several million more maimed and turned into refuges. Reuters noted earlier this year, “Almost eight years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq’s infrastructure remains severely damaged. The country suffers a chronic water shortage, electricity supply is intermittent and sewage collects in the streets.”
It is significant the sticking point for the Iraqis was the demand that U.S. troops retain full immunity from Iraqi law. In the end, the crimes committed by the American occupiers against the population, from Abu Ghraib to the Blackwater massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, have been too bitter an experience to allow such immunity to continue.
“When the issue of immunity was brought up and the Iraqi side was told that the American side won’t leave a single soldier without full immunity,” explained Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, “and the Iraqi answer was that it’s impossible to grant immunity to a single American soldier, negotiations stopped regarding the numbers, location and mechanics of training.”
Even with the formal troop withdrawal, the U.S. State Department will retain a staff of some 16,000 at its embassy in Baghdad – the largest in the world – while being guarded by a small army of some 8,000 security contractors. In the region will remain some 50,000 U.S. troops, about 23,000 of which are next door in Kuwait, the rest stationed in Turkey, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
“The tide of war is receding,” claimed Obama during his announcement. On the contrary, his administration has overseen a massive escalation of U.S. militarism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and most recently Uganda, where 100 U.S. Special Forces have been dispatched.
In the end, the war in Iraq was aimed at gaining control over the country’s strategic oil reserves. It was an attempt to offset American capitalism’s historic economic decline on the world stage through military force.
The war has produced nothing but a string of debacles while resolving none of the driving forces behind it. The ongoing economic crisis has only sharpened these forces. Therefore, withdrawal from Iraq only sets the stage for new and even bloodier wars in the region.